It can seem amongst the least mysterious of Liverpool’s parklands, but ‘The Mystery’ it is to all of us who live here, rather than the ‘Wavertree Playground’ it gets called on maps.
We’ll come back to the why and wherefore of this later, but first I want to show you some poppies.
Now The Mystery is effectively a large, west-facing hilly field with an avenue of trees towards the bottom of its hill being its most obvious planting. But up towards its top, as you’ll see from the 1905 map below, there used to be some ‘sheep pens.’ And this area is still rougher than the grassed over rest of the place. Wild flowers are allowed to grow there, and at the moment there are hundreds of bright red poppies in flower.
The poppies are only a couple of hundred yards from where we live, so I’ll go and get you some photographs.
Yes, it had just rained, heavily. And the splendid poppies of this morning had been seriously battered!
So why ‘The Mystery’ then? Well because it was donated to the City in 1895 by a ‘mysterious donor.’
It had been the grounds of a large merchant house called ‘The Grange’ (hence the avenue of trees?). But this had been demolished and it was expected that the land would be used for housing, as Liverpool was expanding rapidly at the time. However, this ‘mysterious donor’ had bought the estate and some adjoining properties, levelled and grassed the area – eradicating the ornamental lake that was once a feature of the grounds – and suggested the name ‘Wavertree Playground’ to Liverpool City Council when he gave it to them. He said it was to be a venue for organised sports, and a place for children from the city’s public schools to run about in, not a park for ‘promenading’ in the Victorian tradition.
So as such it became one of the first purpose built public playgrounds in the country, and we live just next to it.
Our house was being built when the map above was issued, our road ‘Earlsfield’ running from roughly where ‘Field House’ was on the map, down to Smithdown Road.
Anyway, after the mysterious donation the name ‘The Mystery’ stuck, even though it was fairly quickly suggested that the ‘mysterious donor’ was ship-owner Philip Holt, who lived a couple of miles away at Sudley House. But as there’s some confusion over whether he ever confirmed it was him, I like to think that some sense of mystery continues.
Over the course of the 20th Century The Mystery was often used for large public events. In 1907 for the celebration of Liverpool’s 700th birthday, and then for many years as the site of the Liverpool Show, a horticultural, agricultural and civic occasion with attendances over the three day event often exceeding 100,000, apparently.
Liverpool Shows in the 1950s and 60s are my earliest memories of The Mystery, though they had petered out by the time I came to live here in 1991. It was briefly revived later on in the 90s, though without any horticulture or agriculture. And is now only survived by a little funfair that still pluckily turns up over the end of May bank holiday weekend, when the Show would have been.
Here and there still, around The Mystery, are curious little crested cabinets like this, containing? I have a vague memory of seeing one open once and it contained ancient electrics. Connections for long-ago Show stalls, who knows?
But Liverpool shows or not, The Mystery is still mainly used for the children of the city, including me, to run around in. When I first moved here this included a lot of amateur football, several matches taking place at the same time every Sunday morning. I’d walk past with my daughter Clare, 7 or 8 at the time. And she’d comment admiringly on the ‘swearing exhibition’ that was going on along with the football.
Sadly the decline in amateur football is such that this morning when I crossed The Mystery there was no organised football taking place at all. There was, however, an organised women’s rugby game. And before the schools broke up for the summer lots of them had their sports days in The Mystery, so I think Philip Holt – if indeed it was him – would still be pleased with the uses of his ‘mysterious’ donation.
So, that was Sunday in the Mystery.
Two days later I’ve just been back to see what all those buds might have done. And I found this intense beauty.
While I was taking the pictures someone came over and asked me if I knew who’d created this. ‘Because it hasn’t just grown here on its own has it?’ she said. We both felt it had the look of a Landlife project by the National Wildflower Centre. But there’s nothing on their website about it.
Or maybe it’s someone at Liverpool City?
Whoever, thank you so much for adding such beauty to our Mystery.
And if you’re in Liverpool, come and see it now. I’ve done my best with the photographs but they’re only photographs. Nature itself has a beauty you have to sit with. Come and sit with the Mystery’s wildflowers.